AN: Thanks to all you readers and reviewers out there! This is it – the final part. My medical expertise is based entirely off of Wikipedia, so, really, you can't expect much. Consider yourselves warned. Oh, and I still don't own these characters, etc.

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you are my sweetest downfall (I loved you first)

--

Jack quickly lays two fingers to her wrist to check her pulse. It's rapid and thready, and he thinks his own heartbeat rises in response – he will not be left behind again.

But he can't afford to let this get personal right now. His mind is already compartmentalizing the situation, years of training and practice sliding into place effortlessly. All of his medical knowledge is brought forth, scanned, synthesized, and everything else recedes into the background. Irina is just a person who needs to be helped, indistinguishable from the other billions of people in the world. Just human machinery (bones and blood and lungs and heart) that must be kept working.

He's made it to the bathroom, the living heat of her against his chest, with no memory of moving. His hand fumbles on the shower knobs a little, adjusting the temperature and strength of the spray until he thinks it is right. It takes more awkward manoeuvring to get them both into the shower (Europeans aren't known for their expansive baths) and under the cool-but-not-cold water that he hopes will begin to lower her fever and shock her out of this frightening stupor. He leans back into the wall, and she's prone and draped up against him. One arm is wrapped securely around her waist, and the other keeps her head tilted so she can't inhale any water. He streaks some moisture over her face to help draw out the warmth.

Wetness is seeping through his clothes, prickling the skin below and weighing him down, and he's running through the alternatives they have if he can't revive Irina himself. It's an incredibly short list. Both of them are working off-the-record and being caught together would likely have disastrous consequences. No doubt Irina had some sort of backup system in place – after all, this was her mission and her safe house – but all that was useless if she couldn't share that information.

They are alone. He is alone, surrounded by the howling of old pipes.

And awareness comes in a burst: suddenly she jerks in his arms, her body instinctively readying itself for a fight even before her eyes open. Movement and sound come in unfocused surges now – her rapid breathing (like one saved from drowning), his hands tightening to still her, the wild-weak resistance she throws back at him (she thinks only of escape, confined and confused as she is), the gentle things he whispers to comfort her. Somewhere in the back of his mind, his only fully-formed thought is: is this what she's like after she's been tortured?

He guides her eyes the small distance up to his, letting his fingers comb through her hair, willing her to breathe deeply and recognize him. It takes a minute for her bewildered expression to resolve itself into something more lucid, and then she seems ashamed, looks down into the neutral space between them. And though she can stand on her own now, he pulls her back into his embrace. Her head fits comfortably in the space between his neck and shoulder, and her arms wrap firmly around his waist. His free hand rubs soothing patterns over her spine.

"Do you remember where we are? What happened?"

She nods (barely) into his shoulder. He's tired of silences – too much like the grave. "Talk to me, Irina."

He feels a bunching of fabric against his back as she pulls at his clothes. "You're ruining your shirt."

Jack wants to laugh. In relief, and at the strangeness of their lives, and because he loves her. "It's just water. It'll dry."

"No, the colour's running."

So it is. He looks down and sees little dark trickles of dye on his arms. The water collecting around the shower drain is a murky grey. "Well," he says, the thought hanging unfinished and unvoiced. You're rather more important, dear.

He presses his lips to her forehead (just checking her temperature, of course) and is satisfied with what he feels. Still warm but closer to normal, and Jack knows that letting her cool down too much is just as dangerous. Averting one crisis per day is more than enough, he thinks.

Their sodden clothing streams water across the floor tiles as they step out of the shower. He helps Irina strip and leaves her wrapped in a towel while he goes to find new things for them to change into. He moves quickly, grabbing whatever he sees first, so that she won't become chilled as she waits. Neither of them turns away from the other out of modesty, but the moment lacks sexual overtones – it is something casual, companionable.

He leads Irina back to the bedroom, settles her in the one armchair where she keeps towelling her hair dry. He gets another glass of water and shakes two more pills into her hand, finding a somewhat-comfortable way to kneel on the floor in front of her so he can watch her.

She stares back at him over the rim of the glass, finally muttering, "You're hovering."

"Sorry." He starts to stand up again, but she catches him by the wrist before he can move away from her.

"No, Jack...I...thank you."

Their gazes meet a little awkwardly. It's one of those unexpectedly sincere, human moments between them, when they find themselves talking instead of pointedly not addressing the past, or their obvious chemistry, or how well they function together. Actively caring for each other is uncharacteristic for their relationship. Sort of. It's become harder and harder to predict their actions (and their emotions) the more time they spend alone, the more time Sydney remains lost.

Irina is looking at him with a mixture of uncertainty and practiced indifference.

Jack adjusts her grip on his hand until their fingers are interlocked, sinking back down to sit at her feet. "You scared me."

Irina smiles softly at him (he sees Laura in it, in her) and says, "Boo?"

And now he has to smile too, just as gently, his voice sweetly serious. "Don't do it again."

She reaches out to stroke his head, run her fingers through his hair, but it's still wet. Her damp towel is unceremoniously dropped over him, blinding him, and her hands slowly massage the moisture out of his hair. Her movements are still slightly uncoordinated.

Jack shrugs the towel off, intending to suggest that they go back to bed, but she catches his mouth with a kiss before he can speak. There's no lust, no violent urgency behind it, and that makes it all the more tender and penetrating. This, too, is new for them. Their relationship has always been based on passion and power – and looking back, he recognizes his relationship with 'Laura' was similarly intense.

It's over quickly. Irina breaks the kiss after a few seconds, already breathless. She looks as startled as he feels. So he takes over, following her lead and trying to share himself with her on that same quiet-vulnerable level. He touches his forehead to hers. And he thinks they have never been so close (breathing as one).

"The sun's rising."

--

This time they lie in each other's arms, eliminating the distance between them.

"Don't you have a flight to catch?" Irina had asked.

Technically, yes, he did, but it could be rescheduled. Berlin wasn't exactly a backwater town; flights back to the US were practically superfluous. He told her as much.

"But this is dangerous, Jack – us being together," she had protested. "You shouldn't stay."

"This is dangerous too," he said, tapping her still-warm forehead. "Besides, at this point they either suspect us of being in contact or they don't. One more day isn't going to make a difference."

She could have easily kicked him out, despite her condition, but she didn't.

Jack stays awake again, observing her.

Their mission protocol has changed drastically over the past year. At first, it was only business. Gathering intel, tracking down leads, or dealing with underworld contacts. They hardly spoke to each other unless it was specifically about Sydney. The third time they met, they slept together. But it was driven by frustration and anger (they had learned nothing, almost walking into a trap), and they still glared at each other the next morning. The same thing happened two weeks later. That became the pattern: taking care of business, falling into bed to forget their failures, sneaking out into the dawn before one could realize the other was gone.

As time passed it started to become less and less about Sydney and more about what they could give to each other. And it didn't mean that they were any less willing to risk it all for their daughter, or that they were letting her go without a fight. A life simply can't be built on dead ends. There must be something more, something consistent and real (human heat) to keep one from turning to the bottle or the gun barrel.

Jack knows (and knows that Irina knows) that their relationship is fucked up. They've got history; they've got baggage. It will never be normal or straightforward or healthy. But he thinks that they have perhaps changed, grown together, as much as two spies who have been in the game too long can change.

It's a quiet morning, with sunlight streaming in through the filmy curtains. The beginning of an ordinary day for most people – but Jack and Irina were never like 'most people.' To sleep and wake together (neither trying to slip away), to blow off responsibilities for a day, to be happy...is simply remarkable.

He doesn't want to waste this stolen time. He can sleep later.

--

Irina wakes in the late afternoon, and both are embarrassed, unsure (like first-time lovers, just before the thrust) where their relationship stands. They can't exactly be friends in this business, but to ignore everything that has happened between them...that can't happen either.

"How are you feeling?" About as neutral as it gets, he thinks.

She pushes herself into a sitting position, efficiently pulling her hair back and stretching so that all of her joints crack at the same time. She winces a little as this movement pulls at her stitches. But she does seem more vital, more like the ironclad woman he's used to facing, albeit somewhat (adorably) rumpled and tired-eyed.

"Better." She skilfully avoids his glance without seeming to – a deflective tactic, but one that leaves an opening. She wants him to set the tone.

So he slips his arms around her and lets her relax into him. She sighs into his chest contentedly.

"Is there any food in here? You should eat something."

"Unlikely. I hadn't planned on staying here this long." She pulls him closer (don't go). "I'm not hungry anyway."

He knew she would say that. It's not like he's eager to go out and leave her, but he does want to take care of her properly, and they both need to eat. He gives her his best severe, disapproving look until they both begin to laugh, and she relents, knowing that he's not going to drop the subject.

"There should be a corner shop about a block east."

He kisses her slowly, tenderly, though not without an edge of desire. As he moves about the room, gathering clothes and money, he can feel her watching him, her gentle scrutiny. Hand to doorknob, he looks back.

"I'm not going anywhere, Jack." Her voice is light, her expression absolutely serious. "I promise."

And for all the promises she's broken, he's willing to believe her on this one. If only because he highly doubts she can make it far on her own (or so he tells himself).

He nods, mouth softening into a hint of a smile. "I know."

--

They both pretend he doesn't sprint there and back, returning in under five minutes.

He can tell Irina desperately wants to tease him about it, but she covers her amusement well. It stings for both of them, this acknowledgement of the lack of trust between them.

The domestic act (he makes tea and toast for both of them; they sit knee-to-knee on the bed to eat, talking about trivial things) is no easier, dragging up memories better left buried and reminding them how temporary this day is – tomorrow will bring old duties, new betrayals. So they both become spies again, slipping behind their usual disguises, one moment being too kind with each other, the next being too distant.

There's nothing more for them to say. They lie together, face to face, two sides of a coin. They doze off in turns, resting and waking fitfully and communicating through touches and silences during the intervals.

When morning breaks, Jack awakens alone.

A simple note is left on Irina's pillow. I'll make it up to you next time.

Semyonov's disk is gone, as is every other shred of evidence that she had ever been in the house. Yet he still sees her, inhales her, senses her in the empty spaces. He smiles.

Yes. Next time.

(She will always come back to him)

--

Opening quotes for the sections borrowed from Erica Jong, Fay Weldon, and Regina Spektor's song 'Samson.'

Hope you enjoyed it! I've got plans for more J/I fic, though you may have to wait a bit to get at it. My spring break has just started, and I'll be travelling for the next few weeks without a computer. But...watch this space?

Thanks again =D